The US Government has reassured the public that the Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner is safe, although it is has launched a comprehensive investigation into what caused a fire, a fuel leak and other worrisome incidents this week.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said on Friday: “I believe this plane is safe, and I would have absolutely no reservations about boarding one."
Administrator Michael Huerta of the Federal Aviation Administration said his agency had seen no data suggesting the plane was not safe but wanted the review to find out why safety related incidents were occurring.
The 787 is Boeing’s newest and most technologically advanced airliner, and the company is counting heavily on its success. It relies more than any other modern airliner on electrical signals to help power nearly everything the plane does. It’s also the first Boeing plane to use rechargeable lithium ion batteries, which charge faster and can be moulded to space-saving shapes compared to other aeroplane batteries.
A fire ignited on Monday in the battery pack of an auxiliary power unit of a Japan Airlines 787 which was empty of passengers as the plane sat on the tarmac at Boston’s Logan International Airport.
It took firefighters 40 minutes to put out the blaze. Also this week, a fuel leak delayed a flight from Boston to Tokyo of another Japan Airlines 787.
Yesterday, Japan’s All Nippon Airways reported two new problems with the aircraft. Spokeswoman Ayumi Kunimatsu said a very small amount of oil was discovered leaking from an engine of a 787 flight from southern Japan’s Miyazaki airport to Tokyo.
ANA said that on another flight, to Matsuyama on the island of Shikoku, glass in a cockpit window cracked, and the aircraft was grounded for repairs. ANA said it would continue regular operations, though it said it would comply with instructions from the FAA and other authorities.
The FAA review, which will be conducted jointly with Boeing, will include the design, manufacture and assembly, with an emphasis on the plane’s electrical systems. The review will also examine how the plane’s electrical and mechanical systems interact with each other.
There is no obvious trend or similarity to the problems, which suggests they are more likely the result of quality control than a design flaw, aviation safety experts said.
"These appear to be isolated incidents,” said John Goglia, a former National Transportation Safety Board member. However, the battery fire remains a special concern because “they overheat or burn with such intensity, at such high temperatures, they can cause damage to the surrounding aircraft structure,” he said.
Boeing has insisted that the 787’s problems are no worse than it experienced when its 777 was new in the mid-1990s. That plane is now one of its top-sellers and is well-liked by airlines.
"Every new commercial aircraft has issues as it enters service,” said Ray Conner, the president and CEO of Boeing’s commercial aircraft division, who joined Huerta and LaHood at a Washington news conference.
Some of Boeing’s airline customers affirmed support for the plane. United Airlines said it had confidence in the airliner and will continue to operate its six 787s as scheduled.
Air India said it planned no changes. LOT, the Polish airline, said that it has conducted a series of reviews of all systems in both its Boeing 787s.
“All the tests were completed positively - the systems are efficient and work well,” the airline said.